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2019.04.16 15:21

Belarus will try to circumvent Lithuania's electricity ban, minister says

BNS2019.04.16 15:21

As Lithuania is taking steps to block electricity imports from Belarus' Astravyets nuclear power plant, Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas is convinced that Russia and Belarus will do all they can to circumvent these barriers to sell the plant's electricity to the Baltic countries.

“We have a law that bans purchasing [electricity from Belarus] from the moment the Astravyets nuclear power plant is launched, if it is launched. Under the current regulatory regime, the Baltic countries may purchase electricity from Belarus only via Lithuania. There are no legal and regulatory instruments on the Estonian and Latvian borders to make that trade possible,” Vaičiūnas said on the radio Žinių Radijas on Tuesday.

However, regulations may be changed, the minister said.

“These things may change and I have no doubt that huge, desperate effort will be made to look for possibilities to sell electricity [to Lithuania] via Latvia and Estonia,” he said.

Latvia's Economy Ministry told BNS Lithuania earlier that all three Baltic states have technical possibilities to import power from third countries, including Belarus and Russia. However, trade agreements between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia allow trading only via Lithuania.

“Currently, after cross-border electricity transmission links were built in the Baltic states, and the Baltics joined the Nord Pool energy exchange market, the transmission system operators of the Baltic states made an agreement in 2013 to arrange their electricity trade flows with third countries through the borders of Lithuania-Belarus and Lithuania-Russia so as to ensure effective functioning of the market,” the Latvian ministry said.

According to Vaičiūnas, the Lithuanian minister, Belarus risks losing large sums of money from its energy trade with the Baltics after putting its first nuclear power plant online.

“With the Astravyets nuclear power plant offline, Belarus receives about €1 million in revenue from electricity trade daily. Naturally, once the Astravyets nuclear power plant is launched, that trade flow will automatically stop and Belarus will lose the revenue,” he said.

Vaičiūnas did not rule out the possibility of Russia pressuring Vilnius to allow Astravyets electricity purchases, as Lithuania makes plans to synchronize its grid with Europe and disconnect from the post-Soviet BRELL ring.

The minister added, however, that it would be irresponsible to talk about cutting off transmission lines with Belarus now.

“Infrastructure projects are underway to connect us with Europe, to allow us to disconnect from Russia and Belarus. Disconnecting the lines (with Belarus) right away is not a responsible approach, because that would undermine our security and is not allowed under the same 'anti-Astravyets' law which says clearly that we can't disconnect more lines than it is safe for us to do,” he said.

According to the minister, Lithuania is taking additional measures to prepare for potential blackmail.

Belarus recently pushed back the launch date of the Astravyets plant's first reactor until next autumn. Originally, Minsk planned to switch on the first reactor in May or June 2019.

Back in June 2017, the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, passed a law declaring the Astravyets plant a threat to national security, environment and public health. The government later approved an action plan for blocking electricity imports from the plant.